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Green Matters

With climate change and the environment high on the agenda of all industries and with consumers increasingly demanding more environmentally friendly products, the UK card industry has a responsibility to ensure sure that greeting cards are manufactured in an environmentally responsible way.

The GCA has developed this green information resource to highlight the top priorities and help publishers ensure that the environmental repulation of the card industry is untarnished.

Hot off the press!
Download the GCA's new Paper Sourcing Guidance. This is a simple and easy to read three page guide to sourcing sustainable boards with recommendations, tips and suggested statements for drafting a paper sourcing policy.

Reducing Your Company’s Environmental Impact

There are two main areas where publishers can make a real difference:

  1. Sourcing – the origin of our paper, envelopes, print and production processes
  2. In house – ensuring that we have good housekeeping and best practice regimes in our businesses. The good news is that many of the measures needed will save you money!


Board, Printers, Envelopes, Cello Bags and Environmental Claims

All A-Board!

All greeting card boards sold by paper merchants in the UK come under the EU Timber Regulations (EUTR), which prohibit the importation and use of illegally harvested timber and timber products in EU countries.

Most paper and board suppliers, envelope suppliers and specialist printers are also certified under the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and/or the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Classification). Both of these schemes promote sustainable forest management and, in addition to the regulations, provide reassurance that paper products originate from well-managed forests or recycled sources, also taking into account biodiversity and the well-being of forest communites. What is so important with both these certifications is that there is a 'chain of custody' right back to the source of the pulp.

Increasingly board and envelope merchants have been adding quality recycled materials to their portfolios and the price of recycled boards and papers have become more comparable to non-recycled.

What is Chain of Custody?

Chain of Custody is the means by which a timber product can be traced back to a particular certified forest. Each company in possession of the timber or timber product (eg paper or board) forms a certified link in the chain, eg from the forest owner, to the paper mill, the paper merchant and the printer or envelope manufacturer.

The good news is that it is not necessary for a publisher to be FSC certified in order to publish FSC certified cards printed with the FSC logo, as long as their print company is FSC certified and buys the board direct from the paper merchant (which is also FSC certified), and has the paperwork to show that the chain is intact.

It is important to note that each FSC logo (or 'label') carries the unique certification number of the company which holds the certification, so, unless the publisher is FSC certified, it would be the printer's FSC number in the logo printed on the cards.

The GCA has previously collaborated with FSC to produce a simple two page guide to publishing FSC certified cards: GCA/FSC Factsheet

Also see the GCA's new Paper Sourcing Guidance. This is a simple and easy to read three page guide to sourcing sustainable boards with recommendations, tips and suggested statements for drafting a paper sourcing policy.

Recycled Boards

While FSC and PEFC certified boards help towards preserving the world’s forests, recycled paper content is also a way forward. The higher the percentage of post-consumer waste against virgin pulp and mill broke (virgin paper cut-offs normally added to ordinary paper) or FSC pulp, the greater the ecological benefits – largely as it reduces the amount of energy to produce the board and the amount of paper going into landfill. Using recycled paper from the UK also cuts down on the carbon footprint.

Further information on environmentally friendly boards and paper:

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC)

Lovely As A Tree
Takes you through the process of choosing a recycled or more sustainably sourced paper, and shows you what to look for when choosing a greener printer.

Printing Pointers

The UK printing industry has long been governed on minimising any damage to the environment. However, there are still many things to look out for when looking for an environmentally aware specialist card printer.

  • Low-or-no-alcohol printing techniques – 10% of the UK's VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) emissions are believed to emanate from the printing industry!  As ink dries, industrial alcohol (IPA), which is used as a damping solution, evaporates at room temperature, releasing VOCs. VOCs are colourless, odourless gases that are harmful to human health and contribute to global warming and the production of the ozone.
  • That the printer uses vegetable-based inks – the environmental benefits of using these are: that they are a renewable resource, conserve petroleum supplies, reduce VOCs. An added benefit is that the press can be cleaned using a water-based cleaner as opposed to one high in solvents. At the end of the ‘life’ of the product vegetable inks can be easier to ‘de-ink’ during the recycling process and therefore easier to recycle.
  • Offers recycled or FSC accredited board.
  • Provides a high gloss aqueous alternative to UV varnishing – it requires far less energy than conventional UV varnishes.
  • That the printing company does it’s bit for the environment on recycling - paper, cardboard, ink, chemicals, plates, blankets, rags are collected for recycling.
  • Either has or is working towards ISO14001 accreditation.
  • The icing on the cake! The printer is powered by green energy.

Bagging It

Besides board and envelopes, packaging is another element that is coming under the environmental spotlight.

There are three options: PLA (poly-lactic acid starch), modified polypropylene and conventional polypropylene.

PLA is a bio plastic made from sugar/starch, corn, sugar beat/cane or potatoes.

It’s compostable, combustible and can be transformed into clean energy. It can also be recycled (after grinding, re-crystallisation and re-granulation) as well as converted back into lactic acid, purified and polymerised back into high quality 1st grade PLA resin.

However, it’s expensive and creases or tears easily, and is therefore unsuitable for machine wrapping. It needs suitable composting conditions to decompose. It also uses more energy to manufacture than the other films.

Modified Polypropylene is an oil-based plastic film, treated to make it biodegrade more quickly. It is a cheaper option than PLA, biodegrades to EU standards in landfill conditions in 8-18 months and is recyclable. It’s biodegradable but not compostable. However, there are fears of ‘plastic sand’ and damage to wildlife as it doesn’t decompose completely.

Conventional Polypropylene is the cheapest option commercially and the most commonly used packaging for wrapping cards. But it’s the least green option when considering biodegradation or compost ability. However, it is 100% recyclable through council refuse collection facilities linked to managed recycling programmes, although currently the public is generally unaware of this and it often goes into landfill with unrecyclable waste.

When comparing costs, PLA is the most expensive, modified OPP is about 50% cheaper than PLA and standard OPP about 50% cheaper than modified OPP.


All cello wrap materials must be viable both commercially and also operationally through existing production processes. Testing has proven that bio-plastic films (PLA) do not biodegrade in landfill conditions due to the low moisture content present. Industrial composting is available, but not easily accessible for everyone.

Down gauging the film thickness of cello films to limit the amount of material used is another course to reduce the impact on the environment. However thicker films look more upmarket.

Going By The Label

Unclear or misleading eco-credentials can cause confusion on cards. The GCA has drawn up ‘Green Claims Guidance’ in partnership with Defra, which can be downloaded from the members area of this site. But here are some quick pointers on how to label correctly.

Claims relating to sustainable forest management should:

  • Refer to a specific forest certification scheme if claiming that the board comes from sustainable forestry eg. FSC or PEFC.
  • Comply with the rules set by the particular certification scheme regarding use of the logo, the wording of the claim and the ‘chain of custody’ requirements. This may require contacting the certification scheme and obtaining authorisation for use of trademarked logos such as FSC.
  • State the percentage (%) content from this source (if the scheme allows).

Environmental Claims To Avoid

The following claims and terms should be avoided:

  • ‘Sustainably managed forests’ - There is currently no definitive definition of a ‘sustainably managed forest’. It is therefore recommended that the use of the term ‘sustainable’ is avoided.
  • ‘Carefully managed forests’ - this claim should be avoided, because the term ‘carefully managed’ has no common definition in relation to forest management and hence is practically meaningless.
  • ‘Renewable’ - this is a tricky claim, since timber (and hence paper) products can be defined as a renewable resource when compared with alternatives such as oil-based plastics. However, given that: a) there is no widely accepted national or international definition of renewable forestry; and b) the majority of greeting cards are made from paper made from wood pulp; a claim using the term ‘renewable’ should be avoided, being potentially unclear and implying that the product is exceptional.
  • ‘One tree planted for every tree cut down’ - this claim should not be used. This is because the vast majority of paper and card used in greeting cards and envelopes will come from forests that are replanted on a commercial basis. To make such a claim therefore falsely implies that the paper or card used is exceptional and carries significant environmental benefits.
  • ‘Made from softwood pulp’ or ‘Contains no tropical hardwood’ - the vast majority of paper and card used in greeting cards will be made from softwood pulp.


Saving energy, water, reducing waste, recycling

So you’ve found all your green suppliers – what can you do to make the running of your business greener?

Tips for saving energy

  • Measure how much energy you’re using. Unless you know what you’re paying, you won’t know what impact the changes make. Keep track of your bills, and how they change when you introduce these energy-saving tips.
  • Switch off equipment, lights and heating when you’re not using them.
  • On average offices waste £6,000 each year by leaving equipment on over weekends and bank holidays. Just getting your employees to turn  off their monitors when they go home can make a big difference.
  • Speak to your colleagues about saving energy.
  • Lead by example, but it’s also important to make it a team effort. Ask employees where they think energy is being wasted, and encourage them to think about how they can all use less.
  • Avoid wasting water as this can also lead to significant extra costs for your business.

Reducing Waste

Reduce raw material consumption in the office.

  • The best way to reduce office waste is not to produce it in the first place! Before making a purchase, ask yourself if you need to buy the goods or materials, or if you are buying more than you need.
  • Minimise the amount of waste you do produce, for example by using items as many times as possible and recycling what you can after items have been reused. This will enable you to make significant savings on waste disposal costs and reduce your business' impact on the environment.
  • Ask suppliers to use less heavily packaged products or ask them to take away excess packaging when they deliver.
  • Reuse or recycle paper, printer toner and ink cartridges you would normally throw away.
  • Change your printers' settings to print in double-sided format.
  • Cancel junk mail and unwanted publications - contact the sender directly and ask them to remove you from their mailing list.
  • Use emails where possible to reduce printing and faxing - encourage staff not to print out documents and emails unless absolutely necessary.
  • Reuse paper that has only been printed on one side for draft or scrap message pads.
  • Reuse envelopes if possible, for example to send internal mail.
  • Donate surplus card or coloured paper to your local school or nursery.

The good news is that best green practice also means that you make cost savings to your company. One GCA member company has reported making savings of £25k in electricity and gas costs in one year.


There is so much information on how to green up your business – but which are the best websites? Here are a few suggestions:

NISP may be able to help you use your waste materials as an input material for another industry or supply you with someone else's waste to use in your manufacturing processes. For more information and case studies see their website or email any questions to or tel: 0121 433 2650.

The Waste and Resources Action Programme. WRAP offers a business development service, including professional advice on recycling businesses and a 'marriage service' to match businesses to potential funders. See their website for more information or call WRAP on 0808 100 2040.

The Carbon Trust helps business and the public sector cut carbon emissions, and supports the development of low carbon technologies.